How soon should you and your Valentine start talking about money?

Don't let fear hold you back

Couples typically say I love you within seven months, but they take a lot longer to share information about their finances, according to a survey.

Couples are much more coy about sharing their debts and investments, taking up to 11 months to talk about it, a survey shows. Picture: 123RF/GSTOCKSTUDIO
Couples are much more coy about sharing their debts and investments, taking up to 11 months to talk about it, a survey shows. Picture: 123RF/GSTOCKSTUDIO

Couples have usually had their first kiss and sleepover within the first month of meeting. They typically say I love you within seven months and meet their Valentine’s parents within nine months. 

But they take a lot longer to share information about their finances, according to a survey in the US.

According to a survey of 1,000 couples conducted by US-based personal finance website Motley Fool, on average time couples had swopped medical histories within seven months of meeting, but annual salaries took on average nine months to be shared. 

And couples are much more coy about sharing their debts and investments – taking 10 months to share what they owed and 11 to share what they have saved. 

This despite these issues being crucial to understanding if you share enough values around money to build a strong relationship. 

Mduduzi Luthuli, independent financial adviser with Luthuli Capital, says for many South Africans talking about money is taboo and it is rude to bring it up. In addition, money has become a painful subject for many couples because most simply either don’t have enough or are living way beyond their means to portray a fake “Instagram” life. 

Beyond that many of us don’t understand money issues or fear them, so we struggle to have meaningful conversations about it, he says.

But your financial life is based on your spending behaviour. So rather than asking your Valentine what he or she earns and if he or she can you budget, you should ask how he or she spends money and what guides his or her decisions on how to spend, Luthuli says. 

If you understand how someone approaches spending, you’ll better understand their money story, he says. Understanding who taught them about money and what they believe about money will tell you about the financial habits that will persist, he says. 

Karabo Ramookho, marketing manager at Old Mutual Personal Finance, says many South African men and women believe that the man should provide and the woman should run the home, but when something goes wrong in the home instead of discussing the financial implications and how to deal with it, women are often expected to fix things and this may lead them to take on debt.

She says women should not let men deal with the finances without understanding what is happening to their financial position, especially if you are married in community of property as are many who marry under customary law. A partners in community of property may find herself responsible for the debt of a partner.

Even if you are married out of community of property to a wealthy partner, you should know what is happening financially in case something like divorce happens. 

Ramookho also suggests you be very careful about taking on debt for the spouse or partner, without understanding how your partner manages their finances – if they are already defaulting on debt, chances are they will default on repaying you as well.

Luthuli says it is time for men to redefine their role in relationships beyond being “a provider”. It has become common for women to earn more then their male counterparts and thus are no longer willing to “submit” to a partner who demands their actions and decisions are never questioned. “Women are changing their role and seizing more power in relationships. They want to be partners and be treated as such,” he says. 

Nelisiwe Ndlovu, a financial planner at Alexander Forbes, says there is never a good time to discuss finances with your partner, married or unmarried, but you need to have an honest discussion about your individual money management and financial commitments before deciding to merge or co-manage your household finances.

Ndlovu says remember before you expect a partner to merge his or her finances with yours, you should be able to manage your own finances.

You will each need a budget that details all your income, expenses, and financial commitments before you can merge them. Don’t hide any commitments because it will become tricky to disclose them later. 

Being married or living together does not mean necessarily that you need to have one joint account, she says. You can just open one joint account where you each deposit money to pay just your monthly household expenses, but this doesn’t mean you should hide your spending from each other. 

Agree on how much you will each spend without consulting the other, she suggests.